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The Dispatcher is now a New York Times Bestseller

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 03/08/2018 - 11:24
Today the New York Times debuted two new monthly bestseller lists, dealing with audio books: Audio Fiction and Audio Non Fiction. Here’s the link to the Audio Fiction list. And look at what’s number eight on the list! Yes, The Dispatcher. That’ll do just fine. The Dispatcher had already been a bestseller (it had topped […]

Head On Cover Flats

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 03/07/2018 - 18:45
This is a lovely thing to see: The cover flat of Head On, which, when appropriately folded and flapped, will cover the hardcover editions of the book when it comes out in April. It’s very pretty and my name is embossed, which is always a delight. And I continue to very much like the cover […]

What's real? What's fake? Technology challenges our perception of reality.

Contrary Brin - Wed, 03/07/2018 - 18:35
In honor of Philip K. Dick, let's plunge into an age-old topic of philosophy, science fiction, and nerdy sophomores everywhere... "what is real and how can we tell?" After all, how do I know I am the emperor, dreaming I'm a butterfly, or the butterfly, dreaming I'm a sci fi author?   Starting off --

Artificial Intelligence is Killing the Uncanny Valley - and Our Grasp on Reality: Sandra Upson’s article in WIRED explores the ability of modern AI systems to visually create almost any semblance – or falsification – of reality. “Some AI-generated content will be used to deceive, kicking off fears of an avalanche of algorithmic fake news. Old debates about whether an image was doctored will give way to new ones about the pedigree of all kinds of content, including text.” 
To which I respond that folks should read my chapter from The Transparent Society: “The end of photography, as proof of anything at all.”  There’s not a word I’d change, as the world has caught up with this long- predicted problem… and even parts of the predicted solution.
Sure, the prospect is daunting. “If you were to see a picture of me on the moon, you would think it’s probably some image editing software... But if you hear convincing audio of your best friend saying bad things about you, you might get worried. It’s a really new technology and a really challenging problem.”
Amid all the media frenzy and panic, a small number of folks have written to me about an interview I gave on CNN-Money, way back in 2000, at the tail end of the 20th Century, which seems all too relevant in 2017, touching upon politicians and sex scandals and the ramifications of these (naturally, in 2000, talking about Bill Clinton). And it mentioned how the public responses to the scandal tended to be wise and proportionate.
== Communities & Communication Key ==
My friends at Alphabet's "X" company received FCC permission to fly their Project Loon balloons over Puerto Rico restoring LTE cell phone connections to the beleaguered populace. I'd be surprised if it happened without serious arm-twisting on those unimaginative stodges at Verizon and AT&T. Had they a scintilla of innovation or patriotism in their souls, they would have long ago activated a capability that's already in all Qualcomm chips, allowing peer-to-peer text passing when phones cannot detect an active cell tower. 

I've been hectoring our Protector Caste for this, for two decades. If it existed, Katrina and the recent Maria devastation would have been far less harmful to millions of people, who could have communicated, self-organized and recovered far faster. Hurrah for X! and Yay Qualcomm. Stay independent and creative.

(Coincidentally, I'll be speaking at "X" on Friday.)
It occurs to me that this might be a good time to call a mini conference about Resilient Communications. The Cell-companies have proved undeserving of the public trust. Here’s my explanation of how phones could work well even in crises. 
I am a big supporter of EFF and you should all join! (Especially in memory of John Perry Barlow.) We have a slight difference over emphasis, but I support their efforts (1) in favor of near-term privacy for citizens and (2) accountability for elites of government, commerce, wealth and police. 

It's just that beyond the near term, nothing will prevent those elites from seeing us... no laws or restrictions or technologies. Over the long run, it is #2 that will matter. If we have enough of that (accountability for all elites) then what they know about us cannot be used to actually harm us! 

What they do is more important than what they know.  And we can limit what they do to us only if they are naked to sousveillance.
Rent the movie The President's Analyst.  And see how it is coming true.
Oh, but – “Purdue Engineering researchers have developed a system that can show what people are seeing in real-world videos, decoded from their fMRI brain scans — an advanced new form of  “mind-reading” technology that could lead to new insights in brain function and to advanced AI systems.” 

Ponder what that tool would mean to secret police in a future dystopia. It could empower Big Brother so that no resistance will ever be possible. Or else…
…if distributed to all, so that we can detect the lies of politicians or the mighty, such tools could empower us all to make sure that Big Brother happens… never.
== Obsessed with whether they might make us... buy stuff? ==

I'm going to race through a bunch of transparency/freedom related links, now. Hold on.

The Acuvate site asked 22 AI experts: “What is your prediction on how AI will impact the enterprise workplace?” And… well… yes, I came first. But go past and you’ll get some folks who know what they are talking about.
Many articles and words have been spouted over whether big net companies should be getting rich by mining “our information.”  This essay suggests that: “If Data is the New Oil, Are Tech Companies Robbing Us Blind?” Alas, the problem is obvious, while hand-wringers almost always leap to the wrong conclusions or proposed solutions. 
The handy, cheap cameras I’ve been describing and predicting for 25 years are here.
The Stack: On Software and Sovereignty, is a recent book by UCSD’s Benjamin H. Bratton, who suggests seven different regimes wherein planetary scale computing will affect our future —from energy and mineral sourcing and subterranean cloud infrastructure to urban software and massive universal addressing systems; from interfaces drawn by the augmentation of the hand and eye to users identified by self—quantification and the arrival of legions of sensors, algorithms, and robots. Together, how do these distort and deform modern political geographies and produce new territories in their own image? Bratton explores six layers of The Stack: Earth, Cloud, City, AddressInterface, User.
A sci-fi-ish disturbing video depicts near-future ubiquitous lethal autonomous weapons, or “slaughterbots.” Of  course, as always, the makers of the film point to a dangerous tech-possible trend… and prescribe rules to limit it, never considering the question of how those rules will apply to the worst and most deviously secretive forces in the world.
Watch the video! Be disturbed, as the makers intended!  Then watch it again and note that the evil deeds happen precisely because of asymmetry of light.  And the only solution… the only possible solution… is to concentrate on shining light on villains, including villainous elites. It is how we got the relative freedom and safety we have now!  It is the only way we can keep it.  See The Transparent Society: Will Technology Make Us Choose Between Privacy and Freedom?
Okay, it's hard keeping secrets in an open society. We must find ways to max out the advantages, while minimizing the hazards. And there will always be the unforeseen: Fitness tracking app gives away location of secret U.S. army bases.
== We may all need to be heroes ==

Back in the 1930s, my father, Herb Brin, infiltrated far right groups like the German American Bund.  Later, in his seventies, he boldly went to Aryan Nations compounds and demanded tours and interviews, knowing that their personality type would fall all over themselves to show him around. We have a web site dedicated to this noted journalist and poet, who sat with Hannah Arendt through the Eichmann Trials and covered some of the top events of our era.
Here’s a young journalist walking in those footsteps, infiltrating today’s lunatic fringe.
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

Your Super Large Slice of Ham For the Day: Me Singing “Jack’s Lament”

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 03/06/2018 - 18:15
As part of a Disney sing-along on the JoCo Cruise. Three things: 1. I am mostly on-key! Go me. 2. Check out that dad bod, ladies. (and gents.) (and those of you fluidly gendered.) 3. It should be clear I have absolutely no shame whatsoever.

Art and Entertainment and Neil deGrasse Tyson

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 03/06/2018 - 15:30
Yesterday on Twitter, noted astrophysicist and Pluto killer Neil deGrasse Tyson wrote: Bears repeating: Creativity that satisfies & affirms your world view is Entertainment. Creativity that challenges & disrupts your world view is Art. — Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) March 6, 2018 And, well. No. I responded: Sounds profound and coffee mug-worthy but is not […]

The Big Idea: Jane Yolen

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 03/06/2018 - 11:00
Today’s Big Idea post is not about a specific book — although Jane Yolen has two, yes, two, books coming out today — but to celebrate a milestone that Yolen has achieved, right now, as we speak. When having two books out in a single day is only the second most impressive thing about an […]

Checking In On the (Lack Of) News

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 03/05/2018 - 22:52
I was sent an email today by a Whatever reader noting that I was notably light on political commentary here these days and being curious as to why that might be. It’s a good question, and the answers are, alas, not that exciting: 1. My previously-noted Trump Quandry is still in effect, in which things […]

A Sunbow to Start Your Week

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 03/05/2018 - 09:59
I saw this beaut on the way to the gas station this morning; I pulled over to snap a photo with my phone. As a fun bit of trivia, the place I pulled into was Harris Creek Cemetery, which many of you may recognize as the cemetery at the very beginning of Old Man’s War. […]
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